Know your stuff! The best thing you can do is to be overwhelmingly, thoroughly, and completely prepared and in mastery of your material. Much of the fear comes from wondering if you will make a mistake, or if the audience will know more than you. There is one sure way to beat that and that is by knowing your material inside and out.
Focus on getting through the first five minutes. That is where the problem lies. Rarely do you see someone who seems fearful all the way through his or her presentation, do you? No, they settle in and get comfortable after a while. Don’t look at it as a fifty-minute speech. Look at it as a five-minute speech.
Breathe! Fear is a bodily reflex and one that you can overcome. When you get afraid, you start to breathe in short, fast breaths. Before you speak, or while you are being introduced, you should sit quietly and breathe slow, deep breaths.
Tell yourself that the world won’t fall apart if you do a rotten job. Face it; unless you are delivering the State of the Union Address, the world will keep right on revolving if you don’t do well. Even as a professional speaker there are times when I don’t do as well as I want to (Very, very rarely though – keep those bookings coming!). People usually appreciate it anyway and you’ll keep right on going.
Understand that you are your own worst critic. I had some friends who used to play in all the hot clubs in New York City and I would occasionally go with them to watch them perform. Afterwards they would say, “Oh man, we were terrible tonight!” I hadn’t thought so. The audience hadn’t thought so either. Most people aren’t going to come to your presentation with the goal of picking you apart. So you shouldn’t pick yourself apart either. Obviously, this is mainly for the one giving the occasional talk, not the professional speaker.
Understand that most of the people in the audience would be scared to death to give a speech too, and are glad that it is you and not them! For the occasional speaker, it is okay to say, “Excuse my nerves, I am not used to this.” When I hear that, I root for the guy, not cut him apart (Unless I paid big bucks to be there.)
Make ‘em laugh. That is the best way to start with a crowd. I have a joke that I start 95% of all of my speeches with. It is a guaranteed laugh and always settles the crowd in. Sometimes it has nothing to do with my topic and I just say, “What does that have to do with my topic? Nothing, but I just love that joke!” Then I go into my speech, and we are all a little more relaxed because we have laughed together.